Confetti cannon explosions, laser lightshows and walls of firework sparks; all are dressing for Danny O’Donoghue’s new haircut.
The Script frontman was already possessed of that nondescript charismatic frontman quality; decked out with his fresh, peroxide-blond barnet, he cuts an engaging figure, very much still at ease with holding a crowd in the palm of his hand.
It’s only been a shade over five months since O’Donoghue and bandmates – Glen Power and Mark Sheehan – were last in Yorkshire. That was in the smaller surroundings of Bridlington Spa; here, kicking off an extensive tour proper, in Leeds’s cavernous, 13,000-capacity First Direct Arena, they seem even more so at home.
Few bands are as custom-tooled for such venues; cut from the same, shiny cloth as fellow pop-rock luminaries Train, the Dublin trio’s songcraft is pinpoint-focused on eliciting lusty stadium singalongs via MOR-goes-massive choruses and weepy soft-soul paeans. Critical derision hasn’t dulled their shine; as one of only three Irish bands to register four-plus chart-topping albums, after U2 and Westlife, it’s clear that they know the ropes of success,
New album Freedom Child contains a whiff of low-grade Bono-isms, painting itself as a record with political heart – so it’s relieving that the group eschew its more portentous cuts across a show so slick, it practically glides.
The EDM-tinged balladry of Wonders is the only addition from the latest record on this opening night to their previous setlist, alongside older singles Before the Worst and Six Degrees of Separation; the rest is glossy business as usual. Superheroes soars on its anthemic swells; It’s Not Right for You inspires obligatory hand-waving; Paint the Town Green proves there was life in the fiddle before Ed Sheeran appropriated Gaelic folk music.
O’Donoghue – known as much to the housewives of Britain for his stint as a judge on The Voice UK as much as he is for selling out enormodromes – remains the intimate tissue; he teases out an acapella rendition of The Man Who Can’t Be Moved, and during The Energy Never Dies, emerges in the tiered seating to hold impromptu duets with fans.
By the time silver streamers have redecorated the venue during beefy renditions of Breakeven and Hall of Fame, he is back in the thick of the crowd, lifted above on high by them. As undeniably scripted as their name, it may be – but still consummately agreeable in the end.